Near record fine for Imperial Sugar

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - WTOC has learned OSHA has fined Imperial Sugar nearly $9 million in the wake of the February 7 explosion at the Port Wentworth plant.

The investigation led OSHA to cite Imperial Sugar for 61 egregious violations, eight willful violations and 51 serious violations.

For the violations at the Port Wentworth plant, the fines totaled more than $5 million and OSHA also added nearly $4 million for Imperial's Louisiana plant.

This is the third largest fine in OSHA's history.

In OSHA's report, it says cumulative sugar dust inside the packaging elevator of silo one started fire and caused the second explosion.

The second explosion in the silo gallery and tunnel spread to the packaging house and adjacent building.

Imperial CEO John Sheptor says in a statement that the company will fight these citations and calls the fines excessive.

Below is a copy of the statement released by Imperial Sugar in response to OSHA's citations:

"We share a mission with OSHA: a safe workplace for our employees and contractors. Today we received citations from OSHA and made our initial review and evaluation of the allegations contained in the citations. Based on this review, we have filed with OSHA a 'notice of contest' of the citations in which we challenge the allegations of the citations, the characterization of the violations and the penalties proposed. In short, we believe that the facts do not merit the allegations made. As we go forward, we will continue to focus on the safety of our employees and our contractors, not only as we rebuild our Port Wentworth, Georgia facility, but also at our Gramercy, Louisiana and Ludlow, Kentucky facilities. We look forward to continuing our partnership with OSHA in the future as we have in the past."

The largest fine in OSHA history was a $21.3 million to BP after an explosion on March 23, 2005 at its Texas City, Texas refinery. That explosion killed 15 people and injured more than 170 others.

The second largest fine was against IMC Fertilizer of Louisiana in 1991 for $11 million. An explosion there killed eight people and injured 128 others.